Rabid Habs

What Just Happened? Rangers Even the Series

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Rd1

Few people predicted the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal between the Rangers and Canadiens would be a short series. Despite the New York’s home woes, the Canadiens knew they would have to win a war against the Blueshirts to get to the second round.

That war is now knotted up at two victories each, and the series shifts back to the Bell Centre for what is now a best-of-three series. How did we get here? What just happened?

Unforced Mistakes Cost the Canadiens

In the first game at the Garden, Montreal was the benefactor of several mistakes by the Rangers. Tuesday was a different story, as Montreal coughed up the puck  and made life harder for themselves. While the Canadiens only had one more giveaway than the Rangers did, the Habs’ giveaways led directly to scoring chances. Andrei Markov made the first of these errors, as he flubbed a puck along the wall behind Carey Price. The puck then found its way to the front of the net where a waiting Jesper Fast opportunistically gave his team a 1-0 lead.

The Rangers second goal was a similar such mistake, as a failed Jeff Petry clear was turned into a Rick Nash goal. Claude Julien’s Canadiens are known for being an especially stingy team, so Montreal will have to get back to their game if they want to head back to The Garden with a lead in the series.

Officiating was a Factor

No sour grapes here. The men in stripes were bad, and, more often than not, it benefitted the Canadiens. Montreal’s lone goal from Torrey Mitchell came off of a rush that should have been blown dead, as both the Rangers and Canadiens had too many men on the ice. Rangers’ defenseman Brendan Smith was Alexander Radulov’s target of choice for the third period, as he took the brunt of the Russian forward’s aggression with a brutal, uncalled slash late in the game. After that call was missed, the Nash – Markov rivalry rekindled in the form of a Nash crosscheck into Markov’s back. Outside of the Leafs somehow beating the Capitals, officiating has been the story of the playoffs so far, as they continue to put their fingerprints all over the most important games of the year.

Forcing their Play

Maybe this was just my eyes creating a narrative to fit the Habs’ troubles, but it felt like the Canadiens were forcing a ton of plays tonight. Over game two and game three, Montreal’s offense seemed to come easy to them. Last night’s game didn’t look the same, as Montreal seemed to walk right into the Rangers’ defense and force passes through covered lanes. The first line was especially guilty of this, as Julien shook things up by moving Shaw to the right wing alongside Max Pacioretty and Philip Danault, while Radulov finished the game with Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen. The change didn’t do much for either line, as the Canadiens continued to struggle at all ends of the ice.

Rick Nash is Leading the Rangers

First, we should mention that Nash did his best Chris Kreider impression in the first period, as he drove the net and collided with Price at a high speed. The referees made the right call, as Nash was boxed for goaltender interference, and the Rangers goal was disallowed.

Outside of that debacle, Nash was the the most noticeable Ranger. On the Rangers game-winning goal, Nash was left all alone in front of Price. The Canadiens should take more credit for that goal than Nash should, but when you’re playing well, the puck has a way of finding you. When Nash is able to use his speed through the neutral zone, he’s one of the most dominant players in the league. Montreal will need to contain Nash and hope the rest of the Rangers’ forwards stay quiet if they want to get out of the first round.

Max Pacioretty is a Scapegoat Once Again

Pacioretty’s first postseason as captain of the Canadiens is already turning sour in the eyes of fans and media. Before game four, the narrative surrounding the Connecticut native was that he was playing a good all-around game and that the goals would come. After game three, panic has set in for some fans, and his goal scoring, or lack thereof, has become the topic of discussion.

To be honest, there’s no reason to be concerned about Pacioretty’s start to the playoffs. Heading into game four, Pacioretty sat in second in shots league-wide with 17. Goal scorers in the NHL are streaky by nature, and Pacioretty is no different. I’m not saying it’s ok that Pacioretty hasn’t scored, but the fact that fans have turned on him after a team loss is somewhat disheartening, especially when the other two players on his line were equally ineffective.

Who knows; maybe Pacioretty puts this loss on himself and rebounds with an epic game. Maybe the whole team shuts the door and his scoring slump disappears from conversation. Coaches, goalies and captains are a lot alike; they get too much credit when things are going well (Torts, Bobrovski, and Toews) and take too much of the blame when things go poorly (same list. See what I mean?)

Now what?

Where does this team go from here? Well, the good and bad news is that this is a brand new series. Now this quarterfinal is a best-of-three series and the Habs have home ice advantage. Other popular trends? The last time Montreal lost a game in this series, they went on to win the next game at home, and the game after that on the road. The Canadiens have the chance to repeat this feat, as the series returns to the Bell Centre for game five before going back to the Big Apple for game six. The Rangers have yet to string wins together in this series, and the Canadiens hope to keep that trend alive at the Bell Centre on Thursday.

Puck drop is at 7:00 pm EST. Buckle up.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan and follow @RabidHabs for more updates. 

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